Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Midlist Writer blog, where he talks about writing, adventure travel, caving, and everything else he gets up to. He also reproduces all the posts from Civil War Horror, so drop on by!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Sneak Peek At My Next Wild West Book

I've just received an advance copy of my next book for Osprey Publishing, The Last Ride of the James-Younger Gang: Jesse James and the Northfield Raid 1876. While I call this a Wild West book, I suppose it's really a Wild North book, since it chronicles the gang's ill-fated raid on a bank in Northfield, Minnesota. Here's yours truly showing off a copy.
The interior is illustrated with about 50 period photographs. . .
. . .plus original color artwork.

This is my fifth book for Osprey and twelfth book in total. To see my other Osprey titles, click on my Osprey author's page. I'm currently writing a sixth and discussing future projects with them. It's a great company to work for! This title is already available for preorder and doing pretty well in the Amazon rankings considering it doesn't come out until October 23. Osprey titles tend to do well on preorder. Check out my post on why readers preorder books.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Arkansas Confederate regimental flags

We're lucky that so many regimental flags from the Civil War have come down to us. As treasured banners, veterans strove to preserve them and thus many museums have examples. Here are some from the Arkansas Confederate regiments. The one above is from the 22nd Arkansas Infantry shows off some of the battles they fought in. Oak Hills is the Confederate name for the Battle of Wilson's Creek and Elk Horn is the Confederate name for the Battle of Pea Ridge. The opposing sides often had different names for the same battle.
The 8th Arkansas Infantry also showed off their battle experience.
The 9th Arkansas Infantry incorporated the Confederate battle flag into their regimental banner. The Stars and Bars is a common element to Confederate regimental flags.
The 15th Northwest Arkansas regiment put a nice fringe around theirs. It's remained in wonderful condition.

Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons, which has a nice collection of Arkansas Confederate flags.

If you like Civil War flags, check out my posts on the bushwhacker Quantrill's black flag, the banner of the 22nd US Colored Troops, and two Confederate flags of Missouri.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Guest blogging about Weaving Military History Into Fiction over at Osprey Publishing

My military history publisher Osprey Publishing has been kind enough to let me do a guest post about Weaving Military History Into Fiction. Yes, my nonfiction publisher is letting me talk about my fiction work, even though they have a fiction imprint! Osprey has always been great to work with and this just proves it. Head on over and check it out.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was

John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never WasJohn Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was by Jack Burrows
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm giving this book three stars as an average. At times it merits five stars; at others it sinks down to one.

This is the story of John Ringo, a mysterious figure in the Tombstone, Arizona, Cowboy-Earp feud. The author, Jack Burrows, rightly points out that very little is known for certain about this outlaw and that most of what has been written about him is supposition or simple fabrication. Yet Burrows oversteps it when he says, "There have been more extravagant claims made for John Ringo than for Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James, and Buffalo Bill combined." Anyone who has read deeply into Old West literature knows this isn't true. Ringo simply isn't famous enough to compete with the mythology built up around these greater figures.

The shrill tone continues throughout this book, in which Burrows lambasts earlier writers for their inaccuracies and inventions. While they deserve it, it begins to get repetitive. I know a lot was made up, that's why I bought this book! These lesser writers could have been dismissed in much shorter order, leaving more room to talk about the real John Ringo.

The problem is, Burrows hasn't discovered enough new material to fill a book. What he has found is groundbreaking--a family diary, family stories about Ringo, and some important details about his life such as his participation in the Texas Hoodoo War. These paint a much clearer picture of the outlaw than what we had before. He also gives an even-handed, well-cited account of events in Tombstone and makes a convincing case that Ringo's mysterious death was a suicide and not murder.

Too often Burrows fills the blank spaces in our knowledge with amateur psychology. In one passage he states that his sisters couldn't have developed "strong or realistic feelings" about him before he left the family and went to the frontier (p. 139). His sisters were twelves, nine, and seven. Children of this age can't have strong feelings for an elder sibling? In another passage he actually made me laugh out loud when he described the tree Ringo sat by when he killed himself as having a "deep, all-embracing tree bole with its spreading trunks as beckoning womb", reminding him of the mother he abandoned (p. 196).

Ridiculous pop psychology and time-wasting complaints about other writers aside, this is still the only book that comes close to a serious biography of an understudied outlaw. Perhaps some day someone will write a better one.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 21, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Civil War hand grenades

Here are two interesting shots of hand grenades from the Civil War. They already have captions so I won't say much. One thing to point out, though, is that grenades were nothing new in the 1860s. I've already blogged about medieval hand grenades, and they became popular in the 17th century when "grenadiers" used them.

They eventually fell out of favor because their slow-match fuses were unreliable in wet weather, could be pulled out by quick-thinking opponents, and could be dangerous to the thrower. Grenades saw a revival in the Civil War because the percussion cap made for a more reliable way to ignite the charge. As you can see, both of these examples had to hit head on or they wouldn't go off. This proved a problem and many soldiers didn't like hand grenades, thinking them unreliable.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Guest blogging about Spiritualism in the American Civil War over at Black Gate

I'm guest blogging today over at the Black Gate blog about Spiritualism in the American Civil War. It's a nice chunky article so head on over, settle down with a cup of coffee, and learn what freakiness our ancestors got up to.

Black Gate will be publishing my historical fantasy novella, The Quintessence of Absence, next month. It will be free online so you'll have a chance to sample some of my writing.

This is my second guest post for them. A little while back I blogged about Byzantine and Early Modern Greek Magic. I'll be doing more posts for them in the future, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Another photo of cowboys with a pterodactyl

While this blog is mostly dedicated to Civil War and Old West history, my most popular post is the one I did on the Thunderbird photo and False Memory Syndrome. It's about the enduring mystery over an alleged photo of a giant lizardy bird shot down by some cowboys near Tombstone and reported in the 26 April 1890 edition of the Tombstone, Arizona, Epitaph. Check out the link for more. It includes some fun shots of various cowboys and Civil War soldiers who have downed pterodactyl-like critters.

Now another photo has emerged on the Internet. It's the best quality I've seen so far but with all the Photoshopping going on these days, excuse me if it doesn't turn me into a True Believer. I found this on Reddit from a thread that links to my Thunderbird article. Thanks buddy, hope this post gets you some traffic back! All is connected on the Internet.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fantasy ebook sale and writing tips

It's a sunny weekend here in Santander and we're enjoying the last few beach days before the winter sets in. I still have time to make a few announcements, though! Fellow archaeologist/blogger A.J. Walker is having a fantasy ebook sale of the first two volumes of his Timeless Empire series. Check them out; they're only on sale until Monday!

Ninja Captain Alex Cavanaugh did a great guest post over at My First Book about marketing your work. Lots of good advice there.

Last but not least, I discovered an interesting blog while scrolling through Twitter. Yesenia Vargas did a post about useful twitter hashtags for writers. It included a few I didn't know about.

Do you have an announcement that's at least vaguely related to the subject of this blog? Drop me a line and I'd be happy to spread the word!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Confederate Cavalryman or Bushwhacker?

I came across this curious photo in the Library of Congress online archive. The caption says this guy is an "unidentified cavalry soldier in Confederate uniform with slant breech Sharps carbine, two knives, and two revolvers."

This is not, however, a regulation uniform. The shirt looks about right except for the decoration on the front and breast pocket. The hat is also nonregulation. In addition, few Confederate cavalry were armed with the Sharps carbine, with only about 5,000 being produced in the South.

So is this really a Confederate cavalryman? As I've mentioned frequently on this blog, rebel uniforms often varied quite a bit because of shortages and the men supplying their own clothes. So this odd-looking fellow could indeed be a cavalryman.

There's another possibility. He may be a bushwhacker. These guerrilla warriors often went heavily armed with multiple weapons. They also liked wearing decorated "guerrilla shirts", a subject I'll delve into further in a post next week.

Whoever he is, I'm glad I didn't have to face him in battle!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Rewriting a battle scene

I got back into the next novel of the House Divided series, of which A Fine Likeness was the first. As I mentioned before, travel and a nonfiction deadline made my writing get stretched too thin so it's been a couple of weeks since I've been able to work on any fiction. It was nice to get back into it!

My first project was to rewrite a battle scene that's been bugging me. It's a fight between the USS Essex, captained by Richard Addison's son (whom we only met through letters in the first book) and some bushwhackers on the banks of the Missouri River. The bushwhackers have a cannon and for plot reasons I realized I needed to move that cannon from the south bank to the north bank.

It changed the dynamic of the fight completely! Just one little detail like that and I had to do a major rewrite of the entire scene--shifting paragraphs, editing the descriptions of who was doing what when, where they were looking, and who was posted where. If you're writing a complex fight scene, take my advice and get it right the first time!

Colored engraving of the Battle of Vicksburg courtesy U.S. Naval Historical Center - Photo #: NH 76557-K. My battle isn't as grandiose as this one. :-)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Civil War dance interrupted!

I stumbled across this fun passage in the memoir The Babe of the Company, by Hamp Watts, who was the youngest member of Bloody Bill Anderson's bushwhacker band. It made me realize that when Jimmy and friends enjoy come feminine company in my Civil War novel, they didn't post a sentry either. They were lucky enough to get away with it!

"Anderson took his command to the hills on the Perche Creek in Boone county, dispersing it into small squads... Several squads of the guerrillas returned to Howard county.

"One of these squads, composed of six young men, Bob Todd, Andy Idson, Plunk Murray, Thad
Jackman, _Smith and Lee McMurtry, at the noon hour rode to the home of Capt Sebree, six miles southeast of Fayette. Their horses were fed, a bounteous dinner was served the guerrillas, Mrs. Sebree and her fair and accomplished sister, Miss Jennie Saunders, being the hostesses.

"After the meal, the horses were rebridled and all preparation made for departure, but before mounting, they repaired in a body to the house to bid adieu to the ladies. These young men loved women and the women loved them. They were met at the front door by Miss Saunders who suggested that they enjoy some music before leave taking.

"Alas, in accepting her cordial invitation and entering the parlor in a body, the usual precaution of detailing one of their number for picket duty was overlooked and neglected. Eternal vigilance, to the guerrilla, was the price of safety. Being lured by the smiles of beauty, enraptured by sweetest strains of music, laughter and song held full possession. War was forgotten for the hour. They were at peace with all the world, oblivious that the grim monster DEATH, molded in the leaden musket-ball was stealthily approaching.

"Murray, chancing to glance through the window, saw a body of 200 Federal troopers coming through the road gate, not more than 150 yards distant. He shouted loudly to his comrades, 'FEDERALS,'at the same time rushing through the door for the rear of the house. His comrades, thinking Murray was playing a joke, only laughed and answered, 'Where?'

"The advancing troops seeing Murray rush from the house, began firing upon him. Alarmed at hearing the fire from the troops, four of the remaining five rushed from the house, firing on the enemy as they attempted to escape. Todd was shot dead while running through the garden. Smith was killed in a pasture 300 yards south of the dwelling. Murray, Idson and Jackman succeeded in reaching a heavy growth of underbrush north of the house, making good their escape.

"For presence of mind and coolness facing imminent danger of death, McMurtry's quick action and successful ruse to evade detection and being killed was seldom if ever equaled during those perilous days. Realizing that all hope or means of escape from death by egress from the house was closed by the Federals, who had now surrounded the building, he quickly unclasped his belt of revolvers, and handing them to Miss Saunders, said to her, 'buckle these around your waist, beneath your dress skirt, and when the Feds come in address me as brother.'

"Speedily divesting his Over-shirt, secreting it under the piano lid, he rushed to the hall; an old straw hat on the wall, he donned it and then with no visible outward show of fear or tremor, calmly faced a squad of the enemy as they made excited inrush to the house.

"Both Miss Saunders and McMurtry were subjected to much questioning and severe scrutiny as to his identity, but they managed to retain their nerve and self-possession under the intense and trying ordeal. McMurtry helped to untie his captured horse and those of his five comrades and rushing in front and ahead of the Federal column, opened the gate for them on their departure.

"Hastily returning to the house securing his revolvers and with a 'God bless' for Miss Saunders, he lost no time in taking to the brush. The Federal authorities, hearing of the aid given McMurtry in making his escape, Miss Saunders was promptly banished south of the Mason and Dixon line."

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Missouri bushwhacker meets a bloody end

This rather gruesome image is of Captain William H. Stuart, a Confederate bushwhacker from Missouri. He started bushwhacking early in the war and later joined the band of Bloody Bill Anderson. He helped Bloody Bill on his ride through central Missouri in the autumn of 1864 in support of General Price's Confederate invasion. This is covered in my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness, although Stuart himself is never named. He was probably at the slaughter of the wagon train and the attack on Fayette, for example.

Stuart also spent a fair amount of time riding with his own small band, and this is when he met his end. The November 25, 1864, issue of Columbia Missouri Statesman states:

"Death has overtaken another notorious desperado and robber, in the person of rebel captain Stewart [sic], who, a companion of Anderson and a participator in many of the enterprises of that brigand, has been a curse to this section for many months past.

"Stewart was killed at the house of M'Donald in old Franklin, Howard county, on Friday last, by a cattle drover. Two drovers were at the home of Mr. M'Donald when Stewart and two companions rode up for the purpose of robbing or murdering them. The drovers fastened the doors of the house and Stewart in attempting to break them down was shot by one of the drovers and killed instantly. One shot penetrated his neck, another entered near the mouth, and a third passed fairly into the corner of the forehead. The other two guerrillas escaped.

"Stewart was a man of medium height, spare made, smooth of face, and wore very long hair of a red color. He was on the whole a fine looking man. The drover who killed him was in town on Wednesday and had in his possession a photograph of the desperado taken after death, exhibiting plainly the holes where the fatal bullets entered. Stewart was from the vicinity of Warrensburg, Johnson County, Missouri."

Death photos of bushwhackers and outlaws were common in those days, both as gruesome mementos and as a way for authorities to identify suspects. Bloody Bill also had his death photo taken, as did Jesse James and the Dalton brothers.

This card was sold at auction a couple of years ago by Heritage Auctions, which has all sorts of great stuff to buy if you have more disposable income than I do.

There is some debate of the spelling of Stuart's last name. This genealogical website states that it's actually spelled Stewart.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Back in Spain

My family and I just returned from our regular summer stay in Oxford. We're now back in Santander, northern Spain. I had a productive time in England as usual--hiking, going to London, and researching in the Bodleian Library. I also sat down with my editors at Osprey Publishing to talk about future titles. It looks like I'll have some interesting assignments for 2013.

I have six weeks here in Santander before going off on my next adventure. All I can reveal at the moment is that Gadling, the travel blog I work for, is sending me on a trip that will make my expedition to Somaliland look like a walk to the corner shop. Stay tuned for details!

In the meantime, I'm settling down for six weeks of serious research for the trip and also writing for my book on Wyatt Earp's Vengeance Ride. I'll also have some more time to blog. Looking back over the last few weeks of posts, I see that I've drifted from the Civil War a bit. Because of my current research I've been posting more about the Wild West. There are also more personal posts than normal. Does this bother anyone? Do people come here just for Civil War stuff? There hasn't been a fall-off in hits, but I don't want to alienate my core audience. In any case, there will be more Civil War stuff coming up this week.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Coaling Admiral Farragut's fleet at Baton Rouge

While Civil War books tend to focus on the battles and leaders, the day-to-day work of running an army and navy made up the bulk of the wartime experience of the men in the armed forces. This shot, courtesy the Library of Congress, shows the Union fleet taking on coal at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1862. Steamships required huge amounts of coal and hundreds, perhaps thousands of men spent their entire war mining, transporting, and loading that coal. Not very glorious but vital to the war effort!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book review: Unhappy Far-Off Things by Lord Dunsany

Unhappy Far-Off ThingsUnhappy Far-Off Things by Lord Dunsany

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lord Dunsany is best known for his fantasy, which was an inspiration to many authors such as H.P. Lovecraft. In this slim volume, however, Dunsany dwells on the horror of the First World War. Unlike most war memoirs he speaks very little of himself or even of the fighting. Instead we are treated to the grim spectacle of the wreckage behind the lines.

Dunsany is known for a poetic style that has sadly gone out of fashion, and in this book he is at his most poetic. He ponders the destroyed French villages and the few surviving remnants of happier times the way a Georgian or Victorian traveller would have described the ruins of Greece. You get the sense that Dunsany was very much aware that an age had passed and was looking back with longing at a simpler time.

The original edition runs only 84 pages and includes a sonnet and twelve vignettes. I could have read it in a single sitting but instead savored it over two weeks. The writing is so concise yet so eloquant that it's worth taking some time over. Dunsany proved that he should be counted along with Wilfred Owen and Ernst Junger as one of the Great War's greatest writers.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 3, 2012

"It was the hat killed him!"

While researching Wild West gunfighters for my next book, I've come across some great stories. One was told by Captain Bill McDonald, a Texas Ranger active from 1891 to 1907. He was famous for his tenacity at hunting down criminals and for his cool head in a gunfight. Once, though, an opponent got the drop on him. He was south of the border and facing a bandido just as experienced as he was.

McDonald related in the book Triggernometry: "I was all ready to grab a pitchfork. He had that split-second advantage because he seen me before I seen him. I had an idee, and it was my only chance. I caught hold of my John B. with my left hand. I flipped it off and across the three yards between us. I was going for my gun all time, of course. And he flinched! He drove a bullet into the ceilin' a d had to take aim ag'in. Me, I was in no such fix. It was the hat killed him!"

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My travel writing on Gadling for August

Being busy with a book deadline, I didn't contribute to the travel blog Gadling as much as I would have liked this past month. Still, I did some interesting posts you might like to check out.

I wrote only one post related to the Civil War, a news brief on the upcoming commemoration of the Battle of Antietam. More history/archaeology posts include a virtual tour of Maeshowe, an old-time film short on a Western ghost town, a cache of severed hands discovered in Egypt, archaeologists searching for the lost grave of Richard III, a lovely road trip through historic Oxfordshire, a 3D laser scan of Lalibela, the discovery of the Terra Nova, and tours of the Steamboat Arabia Museum and London's Soane Museum.

I also finished up my series on visiting the Orkney Islands.

On a weirder note, don't miss the story about British police hunting for a lion in Essex, a Norwegian Nessie, and my own photo of a mysterious "sea monster".

Oh, and I discovered I appear in a Youtube video!

To see all my posts, follow my Gadling feed.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


As I mentioned earlier, I've been stretched thin finishing up the artist's references for my book on the Arizona War. I finished those on Thursday, and rewarded myself yesterday with a walk along the remains of a Roman road here in Oxfordshire. I have a few more days to double check my work before handing it in.

It's nice to have that done. I'll be getting back into more blogging, both here and on Gadling, as well as some research I need to finish up in Oxford. Once I'm back in Spain, I'll be getting back to some serious work on the sequal to my Civil War horror novel A Fine Likeness.

See you tomorrow!